For as long as I’ve been blogging about being a parent raising a daughter in the shadow of princess culture, I’ve had online feedback suggesting I check out the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic cartoon (aka MLP:FiM).
At first, I ignored them. What were they thinking? These people clearly didn’t understand I wanted to show my daughter content with themes of female empowerment and self-confidence; to find stories and characters that didn’t patronise young girls; that had imaginative female led tales of action and adventure yet with stimulating and thought provoking scenarios. My Little Pony was surely part of the problem – not the solution. Yet, the recommendations kept on coming, from even the most feminist community members. Could it be true? Could My Little Pony – which in my mind typified the kind of content I was opposed to – really provide a substantive alternative to Disney Princesses? So with some (many) reservations, one afternoon we took the plunge and watched it.
Is My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic the princess alternative I’m looking for?
I couldn’t quite believe it. My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is a delightful, smart, funny, really well written & animated show – that most importantly treated its intended audience of young girls with respect and intelligence. I was rather gobsmacked. And an instant fan…
While it has the colours, the coiffed manes, the “cutie marks”, and the like from its 80s stablemate I was judging it from – it also has a ‘hip’ factor that really surprised me. But above all it is the core of distinctive female characters that make this show. There is a character here for everyone, but to be honest even the least favoured ones have endearing qualities.
Creator Lauren Faust was inspired by her love of the toys as a child, but how the cartoons of the 80s failed to live up to the adventures in her imagination and play. Well, this new incarnation is full of creativity and adventure.
The set up is this (some spoilers): Princess Celestia, ruler of Equestria sends bookish unicorn Twilight Sparkle to the town of Ponyville to study the magic of friendship. She forms bonds with cowgirl apple farmer Applejack, high-energy Rainbow Dash, party girl Pinkie Pie, animal lover Fluttershy, and fashionista Rarity.
It turns out each one represents one of the ‘Elements of Harmony’: Honesty, Loyalty, Laughter, Generosity, and Kindness. Twilight Sparkle is the last element – Magic. Also in the mix is Celestia’s sister Princess Luna, a dragon called Spike, and all sort of sub-characters and adventures…
It may sound confusing and/or convoluted – but my point in going through this is I think there’s real thought been put into setting the scene for female led tales of magic, adventure, and friendship. Lauren Faust has admitted that while the show is riddled with pink, has princesses, and that she was somewhat at the behest of Hasbro’s needs to sell toys – she and her team tried to manage this with integrity and creativity. I think they succeeded brilliantly.
Isn’t My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic just a silly girly cartoon?
In an early defence of the show, creator Lauren Faust said: “…many people without even watching the show (will) label it girly, stupid, cheap, for babies or an evil corporate commercial. I encourage skeptics like this to watch My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic with an open mind. If I’m doing my job right, I think you’ll be surprised.”
I would take issue with one thing she said – that labelling the show ‘girly’ is derogatory. Why? Perhaps one of Lauren Faust’s achievements is that My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic helps redefine the word ‘girly’ to no longer be an insult.
‘Girly’ should simply mean something that is of – or for – girls, and not judging because it is. I have not mentioned the pony in the room – the brony. Male fans (of which I must now count myself) are collectively referred to as ‘Bronies’, and we are many. So while the show may have been made to for girls, this doesn’t mean that boys won’t like it either.
Is ‘My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic’ feminist?
Of course it’s feminist. Completely so. Unashamedly so. This is a show created by a woman, about female characters supporting each other, in a land ruled by a female, where the default for any additional character is female, in a show that absolutely doesn’t patronise the intended audience of little girls with an assumption of frivolous interests alone. Feminism – as well as friendship – is magic.
My wife commented on an episode the other day. It involved two ponies engaged in a sporting rivalry who faced off in a sporting tournament. She observed that when growing up she would NEVER have seen a cartoon or TV show where two female characters engaged in a testing physical sporting competition. She only ever saw males doing that.
This is a show that resets the norm from the male default. There are male characters (most notably Spike the baby dragon) but they are supporting cast – the norm is female. This is a cartoon that I cannot imagine has a single episode which doesn’t pass the Bechedel Test.
In many ways, the show reminded me of the cheery empowering tone of Amy Poehler’s Lesley Knope in Parks and Recreation – I think if Knope had a favourite cartoon, it would be My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic.
Lauren Faust’s involvement tailed off after season 1 (which we are currently watching). The reasons for Lauren Faust leaving My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic have never been made clear.
Perhaps it was the struggles mentioned earlier – in trying to balance her desire to make a great show for girls with the desire for Hasbro to market the toys their way? Perhaps it was other ‘creative differences’.
I hope the adventurous empowering tone of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic continues in subsequent seasons. We shall definitely see, as my daughter and I are now hooked – so will continue watching the show despite Faust’s departure. On a recent foreign holiday, we picked up our first MLP toys, something I NEVER thought I would happily buy for our daughter. My transformation to a Brony-dad of a daughter is complete.
NB: Subsequent to her time running MLP:FiM, Lauren Faust created the short lived DC Nation animated shorts Super Best Friends Forever, about the team up of Batgirl, Supergirl, and Wonder Girl. If you haven’t done so already – please watch the five episodes in all their glory here:
25 thoughts on “In My Little Pony, Feminism as well as Friendship is Magic”
This is really interesting – I have always dismissed My Little Pony as being a bit babyish – maybe I should watch this and see if it changes my mind! Thanks for linking up with #TriedTested
My Little Pony has really lasted the test of time, an all time favourite with little girls #TriedTested
This is a great review, but just be warned that you might get a bunch of moronic replies from bronies who are steeped in online antifeminism and have managed to miss the point completely.
Thanks. Bring ’em on…
Please don’t generalize Bronies.
@Daedalus: Because feminism is obviously the one true way, and any dissenting opinion is wrong and should be dismissed, right?
damn you Qbe Root. I’m a brony. I have for ages and without reservation defended the term from people who say it’s “old boys” and that it’s about taking this from girls, because for ages and ages, I truly hadn’t met a brony of whom that was actually true. Until just now, I’d never met a brony who was actually anti-feminist.
And I wish I hadn’t. You. Ass.
I have watched this with the my twin girls and your review is spot on, I agree on what the creator said about it being girly because I see no reason why boys wouldn’t enjoy it fabulous read Simon although as some already said be warned about the antifeminism brigade
Thanks Nigel. Men rarely get targeted online for being feminist though – I’ve blogged consistently from this perspective and can’t recall any such attacks on me, or if there were any they were minor.
Love this post! My daughters watch oodles of My Little Pony and I hadn’t really considered the feminist perspective – though I’m always looking for strong female role models in the media they engage with (though to be fair my 4 year old gravitates towards those herself). I have noticed the strong ‘friendship’ theme which I like. The 4 y/o’s latest Netflix obsession is Glitter Force – have you seen that?
I read this with utmost interest. My nearly 4 year old boy has just gotten into MLP and loves it, much to daddy’s disgust, he often says that it’s girly and isn’t keen on him watching it. However I don’t mind as such, I find it pretty good as far as cartoons going and I can actually see that there is more meaning in the storylines than just pink and ponies. One of my favourite blog posts I read in a while. Popping over from #triedtested
Thanks Helen. FWIW, as a guy I am more than happy to watch a MLP – I really enjoy them. I understand completely why your son is into it
Thanks for sharing your review on #TriedTested this week x
Thanks for the in depth review of MLP. My 18 month old twins are only now getting interested in the TV (my four year old boy loves the Lego films). We’ve not been ‘exposed’ to MLP so its good to read such a positive appraisal!
Man, you’ve changed! Although, for the better it would seem 🙂 I’ll be sure to check this out when L is a little older.
TBH, if I had seen this years ago I would’ve had the same reaction. It’s practically subversive next to Disney Princesses!
The modern day My Little Pony sounds so different from the one of old. I personally don’t see anything wrong with girly (as in feminine) just as long as it doesn’t undermine females, which it doesn’t seem to from what I read in your post.
At the end of the day pink is just a colour that for some reason ended up being associated with females. There was a time when it was a colour associated with boys (early 20th century I do believe).
I certainly find this a great improvement on any previous (or subsequent) version of MLP. Thanks for commenting 🙂
I’m intrigued, MLP doesn’t sound anything like I remember it from my childhood! Will definitely have to give it a go on Netflix. Very happy to have found your blog, have enjoyed a good browse this afternoon.
Thank you, that’s very kind – and I hope you enjoy the show 🙂
I wouldn’t call My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic a feminist show, I’d rather call it a show about universial values and generally a good show.
It teaches values of copassions, comradery, loyalty, kindness (and more), those are human values, not ones that are original to feminism only.
Instead of putting the label of a movement to an honestly great TV-show, why don’t we keep it as simple as it gets:
It’s a great cartoon show.
Here is where I start telling something of my past to put matters in perspective. *ahem*
When I was but a little boy, I used to watch the original My Little Pony show, played with pony dolls and watched generally cartoons from the 80s like Ironman, Transformers, Powerpuff Girls and Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends.
My parents never told us to not watch this or not play with that toy.
Flash forward to 2010-ish and I’m reading up a TV-Tropes article on Lauren Faust.
I read that she worked on shows from my childhood, that she’s a feminist (to which I shrugged, because I tend to care more of the character of a person than their label) and noticed the new show she’s been working on.
I instantly latched onto it and kept with it till the present day.
I joined the fandom and made countless amazing friends in the process.
And this is what it’s about
I have just discovered your blog and have spent the last hour(ish) reading post after post.
This entry got me thinking- I work in a children’s library and we hold many My Little Pony titles. the core readership for our graphic novel versions are boys. I love it! Every week they want to know if we have any new titles!
Thanks for reading! 🙂 That’s great to hear that the boys are so interested! At it’s heart, My Little Pony is about friendship, especially female friendship, so it’s very heartening that they’re so into it.
Just been reading through the blog after following a link from the Guardian and came down to this post.
My 7 year old twin BOYS adore MLP and have been watching it for around 3 years – and they have a good selection of the toys too.
It became quite a talking point when they started primary school and gave us a great example of how they could watch and enjoy things others at school would tell them was “for girls” and likewise that they should never allow classmates to be excluded from something that might have been implied by someone to be “for boys”.
The show almost became a equaliser for genders within the class (other boys started watching it too) – and the class has become the least gender defined within the school.
Thats really great to hear. MLP does seem to be a bit of a crossover, with boys responding to the themes of the show despite the target market being girls.